POSTED: September 8th 2017

JOHN GOODBODY: Paralympic Movement has much to thank IPC President Sir Philip Craven for

Sir Philip Craven has led the IPC for 16 years © Getty images
Sir Philip Craven has led the IPC for 16 years © Getty images

THE JOHN GOODBODY COLUMN / An authoritative and exclusive series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) The world of sport owes Sir Philip Craven a huge debt of gratitude. As he steps down as President of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), his leadership and achievements probably match and in most cases exceed those men, who have headed the Olympic Movement since 1894.

His 16 years at the helm of the IPC has seen disabled sport rise from a series of sideshows on the international calendar to something that has thrust its way to centre stage and, more important, changed many people's perceptions.

There is no doubt that having the 2012 Games in his own country was instrumental in this success. He found not just willing but eager partners in the event's organisers to promote the Paralympic Games and the packed London stadia demonstrated just how popular disabled sport can be.

And it is not as if those 2012 Games were a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The IPC athletics championships in the same stadium two months ago attracted more spectators than all the previous global competitions added together. Even more significant has been the rising number of viewing figures on TV so that major channels are now competing to screen the events.

But Sir Philip and his colleagues on the IPC have also demonstrated the qualities of moral leadership that has sadly been sometimes absent in the dealings of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Last year, the IOC washed its hands, like Pontius Pilate, of dealing with Russia's state-supported doping at recent Olympic and Paralympic Games, by giving the international federations the responsibility of deciding whether that country's athletes should compete in Rio.

 With the praiseworthy exceptions of athletics and weightlifting, they all took the lead from the nod of Dr Thomas Bach and allowed Russians to take part in Brazil. Commendably, the IPC was not overawed by the inaction of the IOC. It barred Russia from its Games.

And Sir Philip did not mince words, saying that Russia's "medals over morals mentality disgusts me" adding that the country "had catastrophically failed its Paralympic athletes."

We now have the Winter Olympics and Paralympics in PyeongChang looming and in one of his last acts as IPC President, Sir Philip and his members have now given a most measured response.  No decision will be taken about Russia until after the IPC taskforce has completed its work, while saying that seven of the reinstatement criteria have yet to be met.

Sir Philip has said that five of these can be fulfilled in the near future "barring any unexpected developments." The two remaining are the reinstatement of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (Rusada) by the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) and the acceptance of Professor Richard McLaren's report, set up by the Wada, into malpractice in Russia.

The next key date is November 16, when the Wada Foundation Board meets in Seoul to discuss the position of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency. There is time for Russian athletes to participate in the Paralympic Winter Games, which take place March 9-18, as provision has been made to allow them to enter as neutral competitors in qualifying events in four sports, Alpine skiing, biathlon, cross-country skiing and snowboarding. However, these competitors must have undergone at least two drugs tests during the six months before they participate. However, Russia have already missed the qualifying deadline for Para-ice hockey, a sport in which the country is renowned.

Russian officials have always argued that although they accept that some of their competitors have been guilty of doping so have athletes from other countries and they dispute that state supported malpractice occurred.

Sir Philip in one of his final declarations on the subject said that if Russia were to take part in the Games, it would not be because "I am out of the way but because they have met the reinstatement criteria." I am sure that is so but Sir Philip deserves praise for the commendable way he has headed the Paralympic Movement in the last 16 years. He has provided much-needed inspiring and ethical guidance.

** JOHN GOODBODY will cover the 2016 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 13th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001.  

****The views expressed are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sports Features Communications.

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